Two things I learned in the last two days
I am a big tennis fan, probably one of the biggest you are likely to come across in real or digital life. I am also a big fan of Newtonian Physics which mandates that, for a hypothesis to be held true as a law, it should be subjected to experiments which validate the hypothesis, or some such nonsense that only people born before 1974 could come up with. So, let's subject my claim to a credibility check.
Rewind a year back, to 2006. Watching TV one night, Gina and I came across a schedule announcement for what seemed to be an Indian pornographic movie to be shown on a channel private to our cable network. The announcement said that the movie would commence at 3:29 AM. We were both excited at the prospect of finally being able to check out the local action, and decided to wake up in time to watch the movie. I, being the anal perfectionist that I am perceived to be by people other than me, set an alarm for 3:15 AM, and went to sleep. The alarm went off perfectly, I woke up, Gina did not, and I went groggily to switch on the TV. There was still time for the movie to start, so I started browsing other channels. Somewhere in between, live coverage of Federer playing one of those unfortunate guys who decided to take up Tennis as a profession because they though Maths was tough (Ha!, I say to them, and so does Federer) was on. So, I did what was the right thing -- I watched Roger through the game with incisive criticism (sometimes you have to be tough with people whom you care for), constructive suggestions and two cups of tea. Then, I went back to sleep. Two hours well spent.
With that amusing (to others, at least) anecdote I think I have established the validity of my claim. Let's move on then. As a kid, I was crazy enough to memorize the names of all 16 seeds for every grand slam event (yes, kids, back then we used to have only 16 seeds) but things have improved since then as there are 32 seeds to remember now.
I like sports because, once in a while, you come across sports persons who have the ability to think intelligently, are equipped with reality check mechanisms and are good human beings in general. I think there is a common string of traits that all the top players possess, which will probably help anybody wanting to excel despite the profession they practice. Lately, as I have also been in search of that elusive concoction of properties which separates people who are good at their work from those who are really head and shoulders above others, I have noticed a few common ones. Let's get going...
Marat Safin, one of the players who the whole world acknowledges can beat anyone on any random day, pulverized Pete Sampras, the great Pistol Pete, at the US open final in 2000. I watched that match live in Atlanta, and I was one of the few people cheering the Russian on in a large group of people, most of whom were Americans. Anyway, Safin took apart Sampras, then faded away for a few years. In 2005, he beat Federer in the semi-final of Australian open, another very well-deserved victory. However, it is the general consensus that Safin has achieved far less than what he is capable of. The day before yesterday, he beat Dancevic in a very hard fought first round match atht eUS open and was received very well at the press-conference. Here's a question that was asked of him and the answer he came up with.
Q. Do you still look back on the 2000 final as the best match of your career?
MARAT SAFIN: Yeah, but who cares? It's so far in the past. It's already history. It's a long time ago. It's time to move on (smiling). I hate the people when they still live in the past and saying how great they were in, I don't know, in the past century. Who cares? I'm not this type of person. I try to move on. I try to improve and forget it. Whatever happened, happened. It was good memories, great. But you don't focus on that because there's so much going on, so many things coming to you.
Lesson one: If you are successful now and ahead of your competitors, you will not necessarily be in the same position a decade from now, unless you keep at what makes you good, and stay ahead of the competition. Don't rest on your past laurels.
In another riveting match yesterday, James Blake barely defeated Fabrice Santoro, the hard working Frenchman who, at 5'9", is far too short to try the number of volleys that he attempts in the course of matches he plays. I don't have the exact number here, but I have seen him struggle and extend many matches to five sets against players acknowledged to be better than him, taller than him, fitter than him, younger than him. James Blake also barely pulled through, even though Santoro was cramping very badly through the whole of the final set. He could barely serve in the last game, hobbled all over the court, but still took the set to 4-4 before he finally lost it 4-6. Blake had a long, warm conversation with him at the net, which the press later inquired him about. Here's what went down.
Q. What did you say to Fabrice at the end of the match?
JAMES BLAKE: I said, It's incredible that you're still playing this way. You do it every single Slam. You've been doing it for so long, and that you can still fight this hard. You're a credit to the game.
And he said, I just love it.
And I said, It shows, and the fans love you for it.
I meant that for sure. He is a credit to the game. I'm in awe of someone that at 34 years old, as many Grand Slams as he's played, go out there and battle for five sets, in singles and doubles, and probably in the mix there, too, I don't know. To play that many matches, and the brand of tennis that he plays. He's not an Ivan Karlovic who goes out there and gets 50 free points on his serve; he's got to work for his points. It's incredible to be doing that still at this age. I hope my body can hold up the way his does.
Lesson two: Try and find a profession doing what you enjoy, and you will be able to do it longer.
That, dear readers, seems to be enough learning for a week, and it seems to be time to stop the learning and start the imbibing of the beer, so I will stop with the pontification here and now. Have a good weekend and think about what I said -- there should definitely be 64 seeds from now on in every grand slam.